Like the rest of the nation, Texas is battling an opioid epidemic. However, those suffering from addiction will soon have a new resource within reach as Texas-based Walgreens prepare to administer naloxone with or without a prescription. The drug almost immediately reverses the effects of an overdose.
In February, Walgreens announced its plan to install safe medication disposal kiosks in more than 500 drugstores in 39 states and Washington, D.C., mainly at locations open 24 hours.
“The program will make the disposal of medications — including opioids and other controlled substances — easier and more convenient while helping to reduce the misuse of medications and the rise in overdose deaths,” stated the pharmacy’s press release.
“Walgreens pharmacists play an important role in counseling patients on the safe use of their medications, and now we are leading the way in retail pharmacy’s fight against prescription drug abuse,” said Richard Ashworth, Walgreens president of pharmacy and retail operations.
Texas is expected to have the drugs available at Walgreens by the end of June. The announcement was celebrated by advocates fighting to widened access to lifesaving drugs like naloxone in the Lone Star State.
Houston doctor writes “standing order” for naloxone
“Last year, advocates and public health experts convinced state lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 1462 in an effort to address the ongoing opioid epidemic. The bill was supposed to expand the availability of naloxone in Texas when it went into effect in September, but things have moved slowly,” reports kut.org.
“On Wednesday, Dr. Alicia Kowalchuk with Baylor Medicine in Houston wrote a standing order for the medication for every Walgreens in the state. This means anyone can pick up an order or naloxone without a prescription from a doctor.
“Kowalchuk, who is part of the addiction treatment community, says she signed the order because many family members of the clients she works with have felt powerless. She says ‘this could give them a sense of something to do in an emergency.’”
“It’s a real health crisis here in Texas and the nation,” Kowalchuk added. “We want to be able to reach our clients and our patients and provide them addiction treatment services, and we can’t do that if they’ve overdosed.”
The Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative (TONI) has been providing relief to people suffering from opioid addiction in Austin. Mark Kinzly and Charles Ray Thibodeau with TONI have been handing out naloxone all over Texas, as well as performing demonstrations about drug abuse.
They’re efforts have been focused on the “Drag,” an area along Guadalupe Street adjacent to the University of Texas campus. Kinzly told kut.org that he’s saved many lives on the Drag, and hopes folks will pass on the word about naloxone.
Students successfully pushed for a UT policy that would give medical amnesty for drug overdoses. People reporting an overdose, with drugs on their person, would not be prosecuted when police or emergency personnel arrive. The new policy was approved this year.
Opiate use on the rise among young people
As estimated 120 Americans die from drug overdoses every day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Texas, young people are increasingly becoming addicted to heroin. Heroin users under the age of 30 have increased from 40 percent in 2005 to 52 percent in 2013, according to a 2014 report by the Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG). That same year, more than 300 Texans died after overdosing on heroin.
Use of “other opioids,” such as oxycodone, morphine, methadone, and codeine, are also on the rise. CEWG says the “Houston Cocktail,” is one of the biggest threats to opioid users. It consists of carisoprodol, alprazolam, and hydrocodone, and is created via” doctor shopping” or going from doctor to doctor requesting multiple prescriptions.
In 2012, 8 percent of students in grades 7-12 admitted to using hydrocodone “to get high,” while 11 percent said they tried codeine cough syrup for the same reason. Four percent admitted to using oxycodone to get high.
Around the same time, about 4.5 percent of Texas children aged 12 and older admitted to using pain relievers for nonmedical reasons; nationally, this accounts for about 4.6 percent.
Death via benzodiazepines has also increased from 55 in 1999 to 254 overdoses in 2013.